Asian buffalo (Bubalus bubalis)

Also known as: Asiatic buffalo, feral water buffalo, Indian buffalo, water buffalo, wild Asiatic buffalo, wild water buffalo
Synonyms: Bubalus arnee
  
French: Buffle De L'Inde, Buffle D'Eau
Spanish: Bufalo Arni
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
GenusBubalus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 2.4 – 3 m (2)
Tail length: 0.6 – 1 m (2)
Shoulder height: 1.5 – 1.9 m (3)
Weightup to 1.2 tonnes (male) (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed under Appendix III (Nepal) of CITES (as Bubalus arnee) (4).

At up to more than a tonne in weight, the Asian buffalo is a massive, powerful animal, with a wider horn span than any other bovid (2). These crescent-shaped, ribbed horns are heavy-set at the base, tapering to a narrow tip, and are larger in males than females, sometimes spanning over two metres (2) (3) (5). Large, splayed hooves are also advantageous for walking in the muddy, marshy ground on which this buffalo grazes (2) (6). The animal has a sparse covering of long, ashy-grey to black hair, with dirty-white ‘stockings’ up to the knees (3). The tail is relatively long and bushy at its tip (3), and a distinctive white ‘V’ marks the lower neck (5).

Native to Southeast Asia, the Asian buffalo has been heavily domesticated and is now widespread, reaching as far as North Africa and the Near East, as well as Australia, Brazil and Central America (3). However, true wild Asian buffalo are thought only to remain in parts of Bhutan, Nepal, India and Thailand, with the majority of individuals occurring in India (3).

Wild Asian buffalo are considered terrestrial but are heavily dependent on water, spending much of their time wallowing in rivers or mud holes. The species therefore occupies wet habitats ranging from riverine forests, woodlands and grasslands, to marshes and swamps, usually in lowlands but up to elevations of 2,800 metres in Nepal (3).

Asian buffalo graze in the morning and evening, and occasionally at night, on lush grass and leafy aquatic vegetation (2). During the hotter part of the day, they bathe and wallow in mud to keep cool and to protect them from biting insects (3).

A gregarious but not territorial animal, this buffalo lives in stable clans of females and their young, led by a dominant matriarch (2). Young males leave this clan at the age of three, normally to join bachelor groups of around ten individuals (2). Mating is polygynous, with breeding being seasonally dependent in some areas, where it often occurs after the rainy season, for example during October and November in Thailand, and occurring year-round elsewhere. Females typically produce one calf every two years, with Asian buffalo having the longest gestation period of all bovids, lasting 300 to 340 days. Nursing lasts six to nine months and sexual maturity is reached at around one and a half years for females, three for males. Asian buffalo are known to have lived up to 12 years in the wild (6).

Although domestic buffalo are widespread and thriving, there is a very real possibility that true wild Asian buffalo will become extinct in the near future, if they have not already done so (3). Indeed, the total world population is thought to almost certainly be less than 4,000 individuals, perhaps considerably less, but there is also a very real possibility that no pure-bred wild Asian buffalo exist anymore. Unfortunately, accurate assessment of numbers is problematic due to the difficulty of distinguishing pure animals from free-ranging domestic or feral buffalo (1). Nevertheless, the species is generally accepted to be undergoing very serious declines as a result of hunting, habitat loss and degradation as agricultural land use expands, and hybridisation with domestic and/or feral buffalo (1) (3). Other threats include diseases and parasites transmitted by domestic livestock and competition for food and water between wild and domestic buffalo (1).

Wild Asian buffalo are listed under Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Nepal, which limits the quantity of animal products that can be exported and imported across international borders, but this does not regulate domestic trade (4). Nevertheless, the species is legally protected across its range in Bhutan, Nepal, India and Thailand and it is thought that pure-bred populations may occur in several protected areas (1). Existing conservation programmes are focusing on preserving the buffalo’s diminishing habitat, but this is becoming increasingly difficult as human populations expand and encroachment continues (3). Sadly, the future does not look bright for pure-bred Asian buffalo, which are currently in very grave danger of disappearing forever, if they have not already done so.

Authenticated (20/02/2008) by Dr. James Burton, Chair IUCN/SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group.
http://www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/sgs/awcsg/

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  3. Animal Diversity Web (February, 2006)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Bubalus_bubalis.html
  4. CITES (February, 2006)
    http://www.cites.org
  5. Thai Society for the Conservation of Wild Animals (February, 2006)
    http://www.tscwa.org/wildlife/rare_or_extinct_05.html
  6. Ashby, K.R. and Santiapillai, C. (1986) The life expectancy of wild artiodactyl herbivores, water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), sambar (Cervus unicolor), spotted deer (Axis axis) and wild pig (Sus scrofa) in Ruhuna National Park, Sri Lanka and the consequences for management. Tigerpaper, 13(2): 1 - 7.